Indian Army sets sights on 120 high-tech drones to boost surveillance
The army plans to buy high-tech unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to strengthen its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and improve the effectiveness of its military operations.
The force is laying the groundwork for acquiring more than 120 high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAVs, a senior officer told HT. Such UAVs can fly at over 60,000ft and remain airborne for over 30 hours. The army’s existing unmanned systems’ fleet comprises Heron medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAVs, and the smaller Searcher Mark II tactical drones, both built by Israel Aerospace Industries. Herons can fly at over 35,000ft and feed airborne intelligence for over 45 hours compared to Searchers that operate at 15,000ft for nearly 20 hours.
“The higher you go, the more you see,” said Lieutenant General Subrata Saha (retd), army’s deputy chief till March 2017. “The precision afforded by HALE UAVs comes with top-end technology that can be expensive.”
The army is waiting for local vendors to respond to a request for information (RFI) for 60 short-range remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) that can operate for 10 hours at 15,000ft. India is in talks with US for the possible sale of 22 Guardian UAVs at a cost of $2 billion. An RFI for UAVs, a naval variant of Predator B drones, was issued to the US Office of Defence Cooperation on November 14.
Talks on the UAVs, manufactured by US’ General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, progressed only after India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016. General Atomics chief executive (US and International Strategic Development) Vivek Lall, an American of Indian origin, has spearheaded efforts to allow the export of Category 1 UAVs to the first non-NATO country.
Lall was a part of the Ivanka Trump-led US delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad in November.
The IAF has projected a requirement of over 100 US-made Predator C/Avenger armed UAVs. India does not have weaponised drones at the moment.